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Pay attention to these military HR tips

50 years and counting: Lt Col Michael EE Foster-Brown celebrates half a century of the Regiment. HR specialists could learn something from military management techniques

This is the 50th anniversary year of the Bermuda Regiment and this remarkable and occasionally controversial institution is having a year-long birthday party.

I want to celebrate how the Regiment and the military approach leadership and management. I did my time in the Regiment after being drafted and rose to the heady heights of the Corporals’ Mess. For the most part I enjoyed it. Not everyone did, but many of my contemporaries got much more out of it than they expected when they arrived at the gates of Warwick Camp on a rainy early Sunday morning in the mid-1980s.

I learned a lot in the Regiment, and not just about firing a rifle, reading a map or operating a radio. The army teaches a great deal about teamwork, multi-tasking, planning and preparation, time management and a host of other “soft skills” which can be applied in work and life.

The military is also one of the better practitioners of human resource administration and leadership development. It’s no accident that many HR professionals previously served as officers or are involved in the recruiting sector, including in Bermuda.

Why should this be? Even where enlistment is voluntary, those who serve do so under military discipline — when given an order they must obey it. So why does the military focus on what used to be called “man management” when it would not seem necessary?

The main reason is that the army is asking people to put their lives at risk — and to take the lives of others. When that’s the duty, the gulf between a willing participant and an unwilling one is as wide as an ocean, and it is only bridged if those doing the asking have the confidence of the men and women they are taking into danger. A guide to leadership developed for officer cadets at Sandhurst, the British Army’s officer training college, begins with this quotation from a British Army General:

“Some day you may have to lead men into battle and ask them to do their duty, and you will do it through love. You must always put them first. If you arrive somewhere half destroyed, half exhausted at the end of a hard march, do you worry about your food, your bed, and your rest? No you do not. You must make sure they are fed, rested and have somewhere to sleep. You must make sure arrangements are made for their safety and guards placed, runners sent, whatever is necessary, and it will be a lot. But, if you do this you’ll find that you never have to worry about yourself, because as you look after them, so they will look after you. As they come to know that you love and care for them, so they will love you, and through love for you and for one another they will be the best soldiers the world has seen.” — General Sir Patrick Howard-Dobson

Love might not seem to be the first word that comes to mind in a military setting, and most leaders outside of the military need never ask as much of their employees as the military does. And it will be rare that they have to ensure that their employees are fed (although many companies do) or have guards posted. But the general principle is the same: If you ensure that your employees have what they need to be safe, secure and successful, most (though sadly not all) will reciprocate by being dedicated and loyal.

The guide also outlines five areas that underpin leadership. They are, with brief descriptions:

Responsibility: Leaders are responsible for everything that occurs in their organisations, even when a task is delegated or when something that takes place is not the direct fault of the leader, they remain responsible.

Example: There is a strong human tendency to adopt the characteristics and behaviours of those around us, particularly those we respect. This is “example”.

Excellence: Lives depend on the judgment of, and decisions taken by, rrmy leaders. But a “ruthless pursuit of excellence” in the private sector also provides “example” in everyday life. And leaders who do not pursue excellence create mediocre or worse organisations.

Development: No leader is ever quite as good as they might be. Self-analysis and study is a continual process that requires humility and a willingness to recognise mistakes and take remedial action.

Judgement: This self-evident facet of leadership is something applied to all decisions, be they formal plans or the myriad daily human interactions (More from this guide can be found here: http://www.army.mod.uk/documents/general/rmas_developing_leaders.pdf).

Some of these ideas may seem obvious. Some organisations live by these principles and it is reflected in their success. Others pay lip service to them. And a few pay no attention to them at all. You will be able to say very easily which you work for.

The truth is that most organisations probably fall short of fulfilling all of these goals. There’s a reason why the guide talks about pursuit of excellence — attaining excellence is very difficult and a moving target. But the organisations that pursue these ideas and try to live by them will enjoy better retention of staff and growth than those who do not.

Bill Zuill is a Director of Bermuda Executive Services Ltd, an employment and business services company, and Atlantic Media Ltd. He served in the Bermuda Regiment from 1987 until 1991. Comments and can be sent to marketing@bes.bm. Copies of these columns can be found at www.bermudaemployment.com